The Bacchanal by Peter Paul Rubens
|Observed by||Ancient Greeks and Romans|
|Type||Ancient Roman, Pagan|
The bacchanalia were rites originally held in ancient Greece as the Dionysia.
The rites spread to Rome from the Greek colonies in Southern Italy; here they were secret and only attended by women. The festivals occurred in the grove of Simila near the Aventine Hill on March 16 and March 17. Later, admission to the rites was extended to men, and celebrations took place five times a month. According to Livy, the extension happened in an era when the leader of the Bacchus cult was Paculla Annia – though it is now believed that some men had participated before that.
Livy informs us that the rapid spread of the cult, which he claims indulged in all kinds of crimes and political conspiracies at its nocturnal meetings, led in 186 BC to a decree of the Senate – the so-called Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, inscribed on a bronze tablet discovered in Tiriolo in Southern Italy (1640), now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna – by which the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout all Italy except in certain special cases which must be approved specifically by the Senate. In spite of the severe punishment inflicted on those found in violation of this decree (Livy claims there were more executions than imprisonment), the Bacchanalia survived in Southern Italy long past the repression.
there was no crime, no deed of shame, wanting. More uncleanness was committed by men with men than with women. Whoever would not submit to defilement, or shrank from violating others, was sacrificed as a victim. To regard nothing as impious or criminal was the sum total of their religion. The men, as though seized with madness and with frenzied distortions of their bodies, shrieked out prophecies; the matrons, dressed as Bacchae, their hair disheveled, rushed down to the Tiber River with burning torches, plunged them into the water, and drew them out again, the flame undiminished because they were made of sulfur mixed with lime. Men were fastened to a machine and hurried off to hidden caves, and they were said to have been taken away by the gods. These were the men who refused to join their conspiracy or take part in their crimes or submit to their pollution.
Suggestions by Livy that the Romans banned the rites because women occupied leadership positions in the cult have been dismissed by Celia Schultz, thus:
In light of [this] view of female religious activity ... and despite the claims of Livy's narrative, it is unlikely that the gender of worshippers involved was the primary motivation behind the Senate's [banning] action.
Also, Erich Gruen writes:
All the leaders singled out by Livy are male. ... The severity of Rome's crack-down needs explanation beyond any menace posed by women.
He suggests that the prohibition was a display of the Senate's supreme power to the Italian allies as well as competitors within the Roman political system, such as individual victorious generals whose popularity made them a threat to the Senate's collective authority.
Modern usage 
The term bacchanalia has since been extended to refer to any drunken revelry. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses the words: "the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities." Also in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens writes: "No vivacious Bacchanalian flame leaped out of the pressed grape of Monsieur Defarge: but, a smouldering fire that burnt in the dark, lay hidden in the dregs."
- Tableau 4 of Alexander Glazunov's ballet The Seasons is entitled "Bacchanale".
- In John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden, the atmosphere of Jenny's whorehouse is described as "tavern bacchanalianism".
- In Philip Roth's novella "Goodbye Columbus", Roth uses "bacchanalian paraphernalia" to describe Mr. Patimkin's stocked bar.
- In Donna Tartt's novel The Secret History, four of the central characters hold a bacchanal, which leads to two murders.
- In 1938, John Cage invented the prepared piano for a Syvilla Fort dance work titled Bacchanale.
- The sound track for the 1971 movie "Summer of '42" by Michel Legrand includes a lively piece called "The Bacchanal."
- In the second season of the HBO show True Blood the town falls under the spell of a Maenad, who holds regular Bacchanalia with the possessed townspeople.
- The 2011 revival of The Wizard of Oz contains a musical number entitled "Bacchanalia", which is a dance number in act two at The Witch's Castle.
- In the classic 1983 comedy movie “A Christmas Story”, co-writer and film narrator Jean Shepherd described the hectic holiday season as a “. . . yearly bacchanalia of peace on earth and goodwill to men. “
- Kerwin Du Bois, a Trinidadian soca artist, released his song "Bacchanalist" in 2012, the song was a commercial success in Trinidad and Tobago and referred to the "bacchanalia" of Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival Season.
- At Harvard College, Lowell House's annual spring formal is named Bacchanalia. One senior member of the house is chosen as Bacchus and dresses in a toga and recites a poem during the festivities.
- In the book "Lights Out in Wonderland" by DBC Pierre, the protagonist leaves London in pursuit of a "Bacchanal unrivalled since the fall of Rome". His exploits eventually culminate in unholy Bacchanal in complexes of Berlin's Tempelhof Airport.
See also 
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|Latin Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Dionysia, ancient Greek precursor to the Bacchanalia and spread to Rome as the Bacchanalia
- Dionysian Mysteries
- Maenads, female worshippers of Dionysus
- Saturnalia, a Roman festivity
- Thriambus, a hymn sung in processions in honour of Dionysus
- Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Livy, The History of Rome, Vol 5, Book 39
- Schultz, C., Women's religious activity in the Roman Republic, UNC Press Books, 2006, p. 93.
- Gruen, E. Studies in Greek culture and Roman policy, University of California Press, 1996, Ch. 2.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bacchanalia". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Euripides, Bacchae, a Greek tragedy, gives some insight as to what was involved in a Bacchanalian rite.
- Bacchanales. Actes des colloques Dionysos de Montpellier (1996–1998). Textes réunis par Pierre Sauzeau. Montpellier: Publications de l'Université Paul Valéry, 2000, 300 pp. (ISBN 2-84269-382-5); Cahiers du GITA nº 13 (ISSN 0295-9900).
- Livy's History of Rome
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